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Dublin: 11 °C Thursday 18 April, 2019
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Opinion: Inappropriate comments by customers in the workplace are not 'good craic'

You might not expect women to be subjected to inappropriate sexual comments while working as pharmacists in Ireland, but it happens fairly often, writes Laura Farrell.

Laura Farrell

“THE NEXT TIME – I swear I’ll eff the pervert out of it,” I said to my friend and colleague in the pharmacy where I work. 

But ‘the next time’ came and went and still I didn’t tell that customer to ‘eff off’. 

The incident, which happened repeatedly, went like this. 

When I handed the patient his Viagra tablets, I was met with a comment of “sure I wouldn’t need these yokes if you were my pharmacist all the time”.

That was accompanied by a wink and the whole thing made me feel sick. 

While part of me is able to laugh this off, it also makes me feels sick to my stomach. One inner voice says “ah sure he doesn’t know any better – different generation”, while another voice in my head wills me to call him out as a pervert. 

You might not expect women to be subjected to sexually inappropriate comments while working as pharmacists in Ireland but it happens fairly often. Incredibly, the comment outlined above is on the milder end of the scale. 

Of course, the majority of the public are courteous, wonderful people who enrich my workday, but this type of inappropriate comment is also surprisingly common. 

This makes me wonder if my profession is unique – or is this what a lot of Irish women experience in the workplace? 

Commonplace?

I’ve discussed this topic with female friends and colleagues and it seems that these sort of remarks are an expected, if eye-roll-inducing, part of everyday work for most women. They are seen as something to be laughed off.

It is only now after a few years working, and as my confidence in the workplace grows, that I have been struck by how absurd it is that modern women have to face this type of objectification.  

And if it is so common, then why don’t we hear much talk about it?

We do discuss how to handle inappropriate behaviour in the workplace when the person is your colleague – but what if the offending party is your client, patient or customer?

Then you are into trickier territory.

A bit of craic?

When such comments are made to me, I have no idea how to handle them.

I am so taken aback and so caught off guard that all I can do is laugh awkwardly and manoeuvre myself out of the situation as soon as possible.

I hide in the back until the offending customer leaves the premises and then I return to work.

Sometimes I feel a little shaken, sometimes consumed with fury but usually, I just feel annoyed. 

Do I report it to management? ‘Ah no, that would only be making a fuss’ I tell myself.

I’m sure this happens in lots of other countries, but I also feel there is an onus on Irish women to roll along with this type of ‘banter’. 

Irish women often feel they can’t be seen to be ‘precious’, overly feminist or ‘no craic’ in the workplace.  

They need to be seen to be able to handle themselves and take ‘the craic’ as much as any man.

But this means that the comments are made again and again without retaliation and so our response could even be seen as contributing to the behaviour continuing? 

So what is the appropriate level of reaction?

An appropriate reaction

Should colleges and employers train their staff on how to handle inappropriate comments made by clients, patients or customers in a manner that is fitting?  

What I am currently doing, which is awkwardly laughing off such situations and maybe making a joke out of it with friends in the pub on a Saturday night, is a definite inappropriate, under reaction.

But on the flip side, telling someone to ‘eff off’ or calling them a pervert (which I like to do in my head) might be an inappropriate, overreaction.

The solution must lie somewhere in-between. 

Of course, it would be great if employers and educators developed best practice for responding to such incidents, but in the meantime, I think each of us should take responsibility for teaching people how to treat women in the workplace – and in life. 

So next time it happens, I will steady myself and simply request the customer refrains from making such comments in future, it can’t be too hard right?

Watch this space…

Laura Farrell is a pharmacist and freelance writer living in Dublin.  

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Laura Farrell

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